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Ph.D. Neuroscience

PhD Milestones

The chart below shows the progression of a typical PhD milestones, excluding courses. Click the + signs next to each milestone on the chart for useful tips and information. You MUST read the detailed information about each milestone, which can be found on the navigation tabs above. Please be aware of whether you started your PhD in PhD1 or PhD2 years; most students start in PhD 2, except in rare cases and Rotation Program students.



Get Assigned and Contact your Mentor

This should happen within two weeks of you starting in IPN. We strongly recommend that you make contact with your mentor by email to introduce yourself early on.

Select your Advisory Committee

An advisory committee of your supervisor (or co-supervisors) and a minimum of two (maximum of three) additional professors who are familiar with the research field of your project should be chosen within the first semester.



Advisory Committee Meeting (s*)

The preliminary advisory committee meeting must be held within the first year.

If the project is deemed to be in an unsatisfactory state by the committee, another meeting must be scheduled within 4 months.

* Subsequent advisory committee meetings are to be held within a year of the previous one, unless a Candidacy is held in its place.

PhD Proposal

A PhD Proposal must be submitted to the IPN office at least 1 month prior to the Candidacy Exam.

PhD Candidacy Exam

The Candidacy Exam must be taken by the end of the PhD 3 year.

Note that Candidacies are not held during July or August, so plan accordingly!

Advisory Committee Meeting (s*)

An advisory committee meeting must be held within one year of the candidacy.

If the project is deemed to be in an unsatisfactory state by the committee, another meeting must be scheduled within 4 months.

* Subsequent advisory committee meetings are to be held within a year of the previous one, unless a PhD Thesis Seminar is held in its place.

PhD Thesis Seminar

The PhD Thesis Seminar must be satisfactorily presented before offical permission is given to write the PhD thesis.

At least 3 weeks' notice must be given to ipn [at] mcgill [dot] ca.

Note that PhD Thesis Seminars are not held during July or August, so plan accordingly!

If the student is considered to have failed in the performance of the Thesis Seminar, one repeat will be permitted.

Thesis Preparation  and Initial Submission

FINAL Thesis Submission must be no later than the end of the PhD 7 year deadlines: Typically August 15 and December 15 for those entering IPN in September and January, respectively. Failure to do so will result in additional fees, bureaucracy and delays to graduation. Plan to submit the initial thesis at the very start of a semester in order to submit the final version before the deadline.

Writing a PhD thesis and arranging the defence can take many months; be aware of this and schedule your PhD Thesis Seminar accordingly. Plan ahead to make sure you graduate in a timely fashion!

An internal and an external examiner must be chosen by student and supervisor by the time of initial submission.

PhD Defence and Final E-Thesis Submission

A Defence Committee must be nominated for the Defence.

GPS assigns a Pro-Dean, and your mentor is the Program Representative

In IPN, it is the supervisor and/or members of the student's Advisory Committee who is/are responsible for appointing the members of the defence committee. The student should be informed of and agree with the composition of this committee.

Any corrections/amendments to a passing thesis recommended by the Defence Committee must be made before the final E-Thesis Submission. 


Students may graduate during the semester after the one of thesis submission.




PhD Requirements

The PhD degree in Neuroscience Requires:

  • A laboratory research project - leading to a written PhD thesis.
  • Completion of four in-class courses during the duration of the studies. This must include PNI (NEUR 630), PNII (NEUR 631), and two others from our list of approved courses. Note: You do not need to add research courses for credit.

The research must be conducted under the supervision of a faculty member of the Integrated Program in Neuroscience.

A PhD thesis must:

  • Display original scholarship expressed in satisfactory literary form.
  • Be a distinct contribution to knowledge.

Students who wish to obtain a PhD degree in the IPN may do so in the following ways:

1) Students with outstanding undergraduate academic records may apply directly to the PhD or PhD Rotation program after obtaining their undergraduate degrees.
2) Students may begin their graduate studies in the MSc program and then either obtain an MSc and apply to the PhD program, or transfer from the MSc to the PhD program.


The Graduate Program Committee has instituted a mentorship program by which each student will be matched with a specific member of the Committee. Our graduate program is very large (approximately 300 students) and laboratories are spread out over several research institutes. Thus, we are concerned that all students feel included, are kept informed and stay on track throughout their course of study. During the first term of study, each student will be assigned a mentor who will ensure that the student meets the program requirements in a timely manner.

The Program Mentor ensures that the student, the supervisor(s) and other members of the Advisory Committee are aware of and meet key milestones throughout the course of the student's graduate study. The Mentor will also serve as an additional person to provide information on administrative matters, answer questions, or assist with any specific needs. He/she will chair the Master's thesis seminar and the candidacy examination, and will represent the Program at the Ph.D. Oral Thesis Defence. When planning these events, the student must ensure that the mentor will be available and should not leave organization to the last minute.

Advisory Committee & Annual Reports

Selecting the Advisory Committee

In conjunction with the thesis supervisor or co-supervisors, students must select an Advisory Committee. This committee will consist of the thesis supervisor (or co-supervisors) and a minimum of two (maximum of three) additional professors (who will participate in discussions with the student about his/her research program). The Advisory Committee from the M.Sc. program is retained should the student complete the candidacy exam for transfer to the Ph.D. program.

Responsibilities of the Advisory Committee

The Advisory Committee members will serve as resource persons and have the following responsibilities:

  1. All members of the Advisory Committee will review the written thesis proposal and attend the oral presentation and/or candidacy examination (see sections on thesis proposals and candidacy examinations for both M.Sc. and Ph.D.)
  2. Members of the Advisory Committee will meet annually with the student to evaluate progress. The first meeting should take place no later than 12 months after the start of the first term, preferably sooner, and then once again every following 12 months (or more frequently, as needed). The advisory committee also should convene shortly after initial registration of the student [within the first term] to make his/her acquaintance and discuss course work
  3. The Advisory Committee will attend the student's thesis research seminar, which is to be presented by the student prior to the writing of his/her thesis
  4. Members of the Advisory Committee will be available for advice and direction during the time that the student is enrolled in the program.

Annual Advisory Committee Meeting

Presentation of research work accomplished at an advisory committee meeting is required once a year from the start of the student's program, and no more than 12 months should pass before the subsequent meeting. (Only a candidacy exam or a thesis seminar may substitute an advisory committee meeting, and meetings cease, unless special circumstances arise, after the thesis seminar).

  • At the meeting, the student will orally present his or her progress (approximately 30 minutes) followed by a question period.
  • The Progress Form is to be completed at every committee meeting. (Students should complete Progress and Objectives sections with their supervisor in preparation for the committee meeting, the rest is to be completed by the advisory committee at the meeting itself.)
  • The advisory committee will meet in a closed session at the end of the meeting to evaluate the student's progress, and will complete the rest of the progress form.
  • The student should keep a copy of the form (to refer back to at the next meeting), and forward the signed form to the IPN office via e-mail (ipn [at] mcgill [dot] ca).

The Mentor is not expected to attend advisory committee meetings, but must be notified that the meeting has taken place.

  • It is obligatory that each student meet with his/her advisory committee at least once a year.
  • If unsatisfactory progress has been noted, the deficiencies should be documented and remedial action taken.
  • Failing to hold an advisory committee meeting once every twelve months will lead to an unsatisfactory progress report in research (Note: According to the regulations of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, a second unsatisfactory progress report, either for research deficiencies or for failing to hold a meeting, may lead to the student being required to withdraw from the program). In addition, failure to hold an advisory will disqualify from applying to an any internal award.

Arranging meetings can be challenging - your committee members are busy people! Click link: Use Doodle.com to plan your next meeting.

PhD Thesis Proposal

At the doctoral level, the thesis proposal is an important stage in a student's academic program. It is both a learning and evaluative process that is meant to:

  • Encourage the student to plan the necessary steps for the completion of his/her program.
  • Teach the student to organize a large and diffuse body of literature.
  • Help identify all potential problems and concerns at an early stage of the student's research.

Students are required to submit a written thesis proposal to their Advisory Committee and, with the approval of this committee, defend the proposal orally in the Candidacy Examination. The Candidacy Exam requirement should be completed by the end of PhD3. Students who have not completed this requirement within this established deadline may be required to withdraw from the program for lack of satisfactory progress in research.

Format of the Written Proposal

The written thesis proposal must state the hypothesis being tested, review the relevant background literature and summarize the methods that will be used to address the research question. The proposal should be approximately 20-25 pages in length, double-spaced (including references). A recommended format is:

  1. Introduction and statement of the problem (1 page)
  2. Background information - i.e. relevant literature leading up to your studies (5 pages)
  3. Rationale for the study, hypothesis and specific aims (1 page)
  4. Methods for each specific aim, including the rationale for the choice of methods when alternatives exist, possible problems that may be encountered and their solutions, analysis and interpretation of data, etc. (5 pages)
  5. Summary of results to date (specific items may be included in methods, if preferable)
  6. Short conclusion and statement of expected contributions to original knowledge (1 page)
  7. Preliminary bibliography


After the Proposal is Submitted

The Advisory Committee will review the prepared thesis proposal with the student to determine its suitability for presentation and defence in the Candidacy Examination. The Advisory Committee will assess the acceptability of the proposal in terms of content, style and originality of scholarship. If a proposal is deemed unsatisfactory, it is necessary that the Supervisor address with the student the weaknesses of the proposal and incorporate changes that will ameliorate the proposal. Following this, the Supervisor will submit a letter to the Chair of the Graduate Committee, signed by and copied to members of the Advisory Committee, reflecting the opinion of the committee with respect to the written proposal and the candidate's readiness for the oral defence of the proposal in the Candidacy Examination.

Once the student is ready to begin preparations for the Candidacy Exam, he/she should review the guidelines for organizing and taking the Candidacy Examination as outlined in the next section.

PhD Candidacy Exam

Note: Candidacy exams should not be scheduled during July and August.

You MUST register for:

NEUR 700 Doctoral Candidacy Examination
    Offered in the:
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Summer

The candidacy examination is designed to evaluate the student's ability to perform original scholarship and to demonstrate that he/she is a suitable candidate for a PhD degree.

Doctoral students should plan to complete their candidacy examination by the PhD3 year of the PhD program. Failure to have done so will disqualify you from applying to internal IPN awards.

Before the Exam

  1. The student's advisory committee must approve the student's written thesis proposal and recommend that the student proceed with the oral candidacy exam. For Masters students seeking transfer to the PhD program, the Advisory Committee will consider the student's academic record and research progress in this decision.
  2. The student's advisory committee, if they approve of the student's proposal, will fill out the IPN Candidacy Exam Approval Form [.pdf] and return it to the student, who will forward it to the IPN office along with an electronic copy of the proposal. Please note: The IPN will accept an email confirmation from committee members in lieu of a signature.
  3. Students must register in the NEUR 700 course for the term in which the candidacy exam will occur. MSc students taking the candidacy exam must, in addition, apply on-line for admission to the PhD program for the term following the candidacy exam. Note that the candidacy exam is a McGill academic requirement and the outcome will be reflected on the student's academic transcript.
  4. Students will then schedule a mutually agreeable time and place for the exam, forwarding the completed IPN Candidacy Examination Schedule [.pdf] to the IPN office. Electronic copies of the Schedule Form, Approval Form and Thesis Proposal must be received at least 1 month prior to the scheduled exam. The IPN Chair will examine the proposal and the composition of the examination committee to ensure that both meet IPN requirements. If problems are identified, the IPN Chair will inform the student and supervisor; if necessary, the exam will be postponed until outstanding issues are resolved. Announcements of pending candidacy exams will be posted as well as emailed to IPN faculty and students.


Format of the Exam


  1. The examination committee will consist of the  student's advisory committee, one external faculty member, and the student's IPN mentor, who will act as Chair of the exam. (The IPN office will foward the student's proposal to the external faculty member and the mentor).  The student's supervisor may attend the exam as an observer but will not speak during the formal presentation or question period phases of the exam.
    NOTE: The External Examiner can be a member of the IPN, and can be in the same "Department" (e.g. Biology or Psychology) or Unit (e.g. MNI or Douglas). However, the person must NOT have actively collaborated with the supervisor for at least the last five years (collaboration means actively working together on a research project).
  2. The examination begins with a formal presentation by the student which reviews the background and the rationale for the proposed study, the specific hypotheses and objectives, the methodology, results obtained to date and future directions. The duration of this presentation should not exceed 30 minutes.
  3. The candidate will then be asked to respond to questions from the examining committee. The student will be queried on topics related to the proposed area of research. The goal of the examining committee is to determine that the candidate has sufficient understanding of the background information, rationale, and methodological issues to perform and analyze their research topic. This section of the exam will typically last 1-2 hours. The Examination Chair will act to ensure that the examination is conducted in an orderly and constructive manner. The oral presentation is open to the public but the oral examination will take place in a closed session.
  4. At the end of the oral exam, the chair will ask the candidate to leave and the examining committee to meet in closed session. The examining committee will deliberate and make a judgment of satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Comments and judgment will be recorded on the IPN Candidacy Evaluation Form [.pdf] and results will be communicated to the student by the examination chair. The supervisor may remain for the closed session but will act only as a resource allowing the committee to make an informed decision; he/she will not cast a vote to determine whether the performance is satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
  5. A judgment of satisfactory will result in a grade of PASS in NEUR700 and allow the student to proceed with PhD studies. If the judgment is unsatisfactory, the student will be required to re-take the exam within 4 months. For a second exam, the examination team must contain a second IPN Committee member.
  6. A judgment of satisfactory in a second exam will result in a grade of PASS in NEUR700 and allows the student to proceed with their PhD studies. A second unsatisfactory judgment will result in a grade of FAIL in NEUR700 and will require withdrawal from the PhD program.


PhD Thesis Seminar

Note: Seminars should not be scheduled during July and August.

Prior to writing their theses, the students in the PhD program are required to give a Thesis Seminar. In this seminar, the student will explain the background and rationale for their research and present the findings.


The seminar will be attended by the student's Advisory Committee and other interested individuals, and will be chaired by the student's Supervisor.



  • The presentation should take approximately 45 minutes and will be followed by a question period.
  • Following the seminar, the Advisory Committee and the Supervisor will meet in closed session to review:
    (1) The student's file
    (2) The student's performance in the seminar
    (3) Whether sufficient and satisfactory data is available for writing a successful thesis.
  • The decision of the committee will be made by consensus on a pass/fail basis.
  • The Committee members will indicate that the student has successfully completed the Thesis Seminar by signing the Seminar Approval Form, which will go into the student's file.
  • The Supervisor will also provide a brief written summary of this discussion to the student with a copy sent to the IPN Graduate Office.


Arranging the Seminar and Timing


  • It is the responsibility of the student to arrange for the date, time and place of their thesis seminar, and to ensure that all members of the committee can attend.
  • The Graduate Program Office must be given at least three weeks notification of the seminar.
  • Seminars should not be scheduled during July and August.


In Case of Failure


If the student is considered to have failed in the performance of the thesis seminar, one repeat will be permitted.


PhD Thesis Preparation and Submission

All doctoral students are required to submit and defend a thesis in a sub field of neuroscience. The thesis must display original scholarship expressed in satisfactory literary style and must be a distinct contribution to knowledge.

The regulations regarding PhD theses are set by Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies at McGill. Therefore, for up to date general guidelines on the preparation and submission of the thesis, consult the GPS website at: http://www.mcgill.ca/gps/thesis/guidelines



Regulations Governing Choice of Internal and External Examiners

Once a student is prepared to submit their thesis, the following guidelines must be applied when completing the requisite Nomination of Examiners form:

Internal Examiner for the PhD Thesis:

  • May not be a supervisor of the thesis research
  • May not have published with the candidate
  • May have published with the supervisor on other projects, as long as the collaboration is at arm's length from the student's project
  • Must have an academic appointment and be actively engaged in research
  • May be from another department within McGill University, if necessary

External Examiner for the PhD Thesis

  • Must not have been involved in the supervision of the candidate or in the preparation of the thesis, nor have co-authored any component of the thesis
  • Must not have been a student or fellow in the supervisor's laboratory for a period of at least 5 years
  • In some but not all cases, potential examiners who have published with the supervisor may be in conflict. This should be judged on a case-by-case basis
  • Must have an academic appointment at a university and be actively engaged in research

For further information regarding thesis submission and distribution, please contact the IPN Office.


PhD Defence and E-Thesis Submission


For many doctoral students, the Ph.D. Oral Defence signifies a moment of great achievement following years of rigorous study and research. To ensure a successful conclusion of your degree program, students who are preparing for their Ph.D. Oral Defence MUST review the guidelines set out by the Office for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS), available at: http://www.mcgill.ca/gps/thesis/guidelines/oral-defence.

Guidelines to Forming the Defence Committee


  1. The defence committee must comprise at least five (5) members, not including the Pro-Dean (# 8 on the defence form) who is nominated by the Thesis Office)
  2. The student's Mentor should act as the "Departmental Chair or Deputy" (#1 on the defence form)
  3. Not more than two (2) members of the student's Advisory Committee, including the supervisor(s), can sit on the defence committee
  4. The Internal Examiner named on the Nomination of Examiners form must sit as the Internal Examiner for the defence committee (#3 on the defense form)
  5. At least one member of the defence committee must be from another department and should not have been affiliated with the student's research or supervision in any way (#7 on the defence form)


In IPN, it is the supervisor and/or members of the student's Advisory Committee who is/are responsible for appointing the members of the defence committee. The student should be informed of and agree with the composition of this committee.

Arranging the Defence

The secretary of your research unit should help you with contacting all members to ensure their acceptance and availability to serve on the Ph.D. Oral Defence Committee. The secretary of your research unit must also confirm the date, time and location of the defence with all committee members (except the Pro-Dean).

When the Oral Defence form is completed and the date confirmed, the student must sign the form and return it to the IPN Office (Montreal Neurological Institute, Room 141).